February 01, 2012
Training Tip 20: Computer Slide Shows: Boon or Bane?
“Slideware may help speakers outline their talks, but convenience for the speaker can be punishing to both content and audience.”
Edward Tufte, The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint
Computer generated slide shows like Microsoft PowerPoint have gotten a bad rap in some circles. For example:
- The quotation above from respected Yale professor Edward Tufte is one of the milder criticisms in his pamphlet-sized anti-slideshow rant.
- Peter Norvig’s Gettysburg PowerPoint Presentation is an hilarious demonstration of how slideware would have destroyed Lincoln’s famous speech. Norvig posits the question an imaginary listener would ask: "Doesn't he realize this presentation is a waste of time? Why doesn't he just tell us what matters and get it over with?"
- Former OGE Director Bob Cusick began a speech at one OGE conference with the comment “I don’t have a slide show.” The audience cheered.
- Some U.S. Army Generals have banned the use of PowerPoint from military briefings.
- A Swiss political party has even undertaken to have slide shows banned altogether.
Are the criticisms justified? To some extent, yes. Too many users of slide shows don’t understand what they are doing or don’t put in enough effort, or both. A high percentage of slide shows are painful for audiences.
However, the story is not that simple. Contrary to the views of the anti-slideshow camp, slide shows don’t cause people to be bad presenters. Slide shows are merely a tool used by many speakers, both good and bad.
An excellent speaker without a slide show will be better than a poor speaker without a slide show. However, a good slide show will probably make an excellent speaker even better. And it can sometimes make an average to poor speaker noticeably more effective.
Slide shows make sense for trainers who understand how to use them and are willing to invest the time to produce a decent product. Understanding how to create and use slide shows is a powerful tool in the trainer’s arsenal. We’ll be devoting our next Training Tips columns to exploring the right way to use PowerPoint and similar software, and we hope you enjoy the ride.